karinguyenSusan Tepper:  Women and their hair.  I’ve started believing it must be in our DNA to have this hair obsession.  Kari, your story “You Take All” begins with hair, but of a different sort.  What made the story begin as it does?

Kari Nguyen:  Not too long ago, my aunt walked into my house, wearing my mother’s old wig. She was proud to show me. My mother followed behind, smiling. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget. I felt overwhelmingly connected to that wig right then. It had returned, years later, to stand in my kitchen. I hadn’t expected it. After that, I knew I wanted to write about a wig and its place in a family. The wig had to be central, its own character. And it had to demand attention. I wanted to convey some of this in the story’s opening scene.

Susan:  I love when a story springs out of a simple kernel of something real then sprouts into something deeply magical.  You write:

Your mother’s wig is a honey-red, a melting heat. You imagine your mother to be wearing her heart on her head. When the wig first appears, you run through the house, screaming, ‘It’s ALIVE!’

A wig, an inanimate object, with great possibilities for transforming a person, becomes an alive, hot heart thing.

Kari: So true. The wig, to this child, is full of possibility. She’s unaware of its meaning or why her mother wears it. I wanted to capture that child-like wonder.

Susan:  The mother-daughter bond is very strong in this piece.  I especially love when they are sitting looking through old photos, and the wig is there, too, on a photo of her Grandmother.  But as you write:  the odd, grainy photos….

And your narrator is thinking:  The past, apparently, was a time without color.

This line stopped me cold.  It’s a sobering thought.  Is the past a time without color?  Kari, is that true for you in the writing of this story or does the past blaze?

Kari:  I remember, as a kid, looking back at old photographs and having trouble believing that these people, in their black and white worlds, had actually existed. I imagined the narrator feeling this way. I think it’s probably hard, sometimes, for young kids to accept the fact that things – people, lives, etc – have come before them. In actuality, the past, in this story, does blaze, as you put it. The grandmother, the first to wear the wig, chose to stand out, when she could have simply blended in.

Susan:  Yes!  There is a lot of strength in the story, in these characters, the choices these women make.  And I sense in the narrator the importance of keeping close in a spiritual way to the ties and bonds of her mother and the women relations around her.  Is it a blood bond or almost a fear that keeps the status quo alive for this narrator?  Because, you are, in the story, talking life and death.  Even though we’re going out of our way not to divulge too much plot.

Kari: I tried not to let fear play too big of a role. It’s more about their bonds, their rituals, all that they share.

Susan: Fear didn’t play a role, in fact quite the opposite: The story is fearless.  But me, with my inquiring mind, I like to scratch around and dig things up.  So what I’m trying to find out is whether your narrator did fear for her future?  Regardless of how she carried herself with attitude and dignity and a certain aplomb.  But, when push comes to shove, was she afraid?

Kari: I don’t think she’d like to admit it, but of course the fear was there. I think, though, from early on, there was a sort of acceptance, followed by resolve, so that there was less room to acknowledge it.

Susan:  About the narrator you write:  “Your reflection is unfamiliar, your skin is awash… You’ll wear your heart on the outside too.  You are the rituals of your women gone before.”

Read You Take All by Kari Nguyen

Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.

  1. Gloria Mindock

    Kari and Susan-

    Interesting, and wonderful chat between you both. Really enjoyed it.
    The wig brings with it so many possibilities…

  2. gay degani

    I love this idea of hair and wigs and what they can mean. The interview is terrific, Susan and Kari and of course now I’m off to read the story.

  3. Robert Vaughan

    Great conversation between two admirable ladies, artists, writers both. Enjoyed this immensely as I did Kari’s You Take All.

  4. Meg Tuite

    Loved this interview, Kari and Susan!!! OUtstanding story, Kari and Susan, you really know how to get in there and ask the right questions to flesh it out!! Excellent!!!

  5. Kathy Fish

    Wonderful chat, Susan and Kari. Loved Kari’s story, and this discussion of it, very much. Thank you both!

  6. Darryl Price

    Beautiful exploration on both sides of the subject. It makes so much sense to me, but one still has to have the talent to pull it off. Kari has that and more, the heart to feel the story from all angles and give it a pulse. Nice job!

  7. David Ackley

    Really fine coversation, full of the lively history distilled in this fine story. The way your imagination plays over the story, Susan, makes for a fascinating interplay between you and Kari.

  8. Sam Rasnake

    Great discussion, Kari and Susan– Especially like this short fiction.

  9. James Lloyd Davis

    Thank you, Kari and Susan. Kari’s work is always fresh, never trite, and bears the stamp of a heartfelt warmth in human terms.

  10. MaryAnne Kolton

    Kari, this story has so many layers it prompts me to read it again and again. Susan, great work as usual.

  11. estelle bruno

    Susan and Kari, this was a wonderful chat. So much real truth in your story.

  12. Kari Nguyen

    Full of thanks – thank you to Susan for helping bring the story to life (and for offering it a home in an upcoming issue of Wilderness House Literary Review), and thanks to all for your comments! I’m touched!

  13. susan tepper

    To everyone who has so graciously commented on Kari’s beautiful story and chat, many thanks!

  14. Christopher

    Excellent chat, both of you. Off to read the story…

  15. Michelle Elvy

    wonderful interview, wonderful story. I love the colors in this piece, and I love the tension, the wonder, the connections. Gorgeous writing, as always, Kari. Thanks for the interview and bringing me here today, Susan!

  16. Jane Hammons

    great interview leads me to another great story I missed.

  17. susan tepper

    Kari, I just re-read your chat. Lovely responses! And you do have very nice hair!

  1. 1 My Monday Chat « Kari Nguyen

    […] and I discuss my story “You Take All” for the Fictionaut Monday Chat series. The interview is here. Thanks for taking a peek! Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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